Harassment is when a landlord or landlord's agent carries out acts which are likely to interfere with the peace and comfort of an occupier, or persistently withdraws (or withholds) services required by the occupier. It is an offence for a landlord to carry out any of these acts if they cause the occupier to leave, or prevent them from exercising their rights to the property - for example if the landlord cuts off the electricity supply.
Harassment can take many forms. If proven, any of the following may be a criminal offence:
- Disconnection of essential services such as electricity, gas or water
- Removal of or interference with the occupier's belongings
- Preventing access to bathroom, kitchen or garden to which the occupier has shared or exclusive right
- Entering an occupier's home without consent
- Making threats to persuade an occupier to leave
Inlawful eviction is where any person unlawfully deprives or attempts to deprive a residential occupier of his or her occupation of the premises without going through correct legal procedures. The only defence a landlord has against a claim of illegal eviction is if they genuinely believed that the occupier had permanently left the property. If you intend to leave your property for a long period, but you will be returning, it is important that you continue paying your rent and do not remove all your belongings.
Acts of illegal evictions include:
- changing locks when you are out
- being physically thrown out of all or part of your home, or
- physically stopping you from entering your home.
In most cases, the landlord must obtain a possession order from a County Court after serving a valid Notice to Quit. If you receive a notice, you should not leave or give your keys back to your landlord. You do not have to leave when your notice expires. You should get legal advice on your rights, depending on the type of your tenancy. Only the court can decide whether you have to leave the property. It will normally take several weeks before your case is decided in court. If the court grants possession to your landlord, you may have to pay their court costs.
Exceptions to the normal rules:
Your landlord does not need to obtain a court possession order to evict you if you have a resident landlord with whom you share facilities, like the kitchen and bathroom. Or, if you are not paying any rent for your accommodation. In these cases, your landlord is only required to give you reasonable notice to leave the property. Reasonable notice is considered to be one rental period, for example if you pay rent on a weekly basis you will only be entitled to one week's notice. Once the notice has elapsed, you then become a trespasser and your landlord can legally change the locks at the property.
It is an offence under the Criminal Law Act 1977 for the landlord to use violence, or threaten to use violence, in order to enter a property when someone inside is opposed to that entry.
How the police can help:
Incidents of harassment and illegal eviction should be reported to the police without delay. Take a note of the attending Police Officer's number and station telephone number so the Council can obtain details from the Police. Police officers can be vital witnesses at any court hearing. The Police can prosecute if you have been assaulted or if the landlord has committed a criminal offence.
Problems at night or the weekend. You should contact the police immediately outside normal office hours. They should attend to prevent a breach of the peace and may try to get you back into your home.
Contact the Private Sector Housing Team for further advice if you are being harassed or threatened with illegal eviction.
Phone: 01992 564348